Alabama and Oklahoma have combined for 21 wins this season and are meeting in a BCS bowl — and for some fans, that’s not enough. Maybe it’s time to stop and enjoy the sweet taste of Sugar.
Earning the opportunity to play in the Sugar Bowl is supposed to be a big deal, and it generally is.
But when you’re Alabama and Oklahoma, things are different than they are most anywhere else, for better and worse.
The more success a college football program has, the more skewed perspectives can get.
Alabama is 11-1. The Crimson Tide was closing in on an opportunity to play for a record third consecutive BCS championship before lightning struck and Bama got sidetracked by a last-second loss to Auburn.
The Crimson Tide’s opponent Thursday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is Oklahoma, which is playing in its ninth BCS bowl in coach Bob Stoops’ 15 seasons.
The Sooners are 10-2, having reached double-digit wins for the 10th time in the last 12 seasons.
Those are remarkable achievements that somehow seem to get overshadowed on occasion by the fact that these teams aren’t in Pasadena, Calif., where Auburn and Florida State will play for that coveted crystal football.
But here we’ve got two of the most successful programs in college football history — both recently and long-term — meeting in one of the top matchups of the bowl season.
To some Crimson Tide and Sooners followers, that’s a major disappointment, and they’re not alone.
It’s also a disappointment for many that LSU is playing on New Year’s Day in the Outback Bowl against Iowa, even as it pursues its fourth straight 10-win season.
There’s no crystal ball shot for the Tigers, either.
On Monday, in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon, Mack Brown will finish his illustrious career at Texas after winning “just” one BCS title and playing in “just” one other title game in 16 seasons.
For followers of programs such as these, anything less than a BCS championship is a disappointment. It’s good to reach the rarified air where that can happen, but let’s be realistic.
The occasional loss in the title game is tolerable, and even droughts from the title game can be endured, as long as one such as LSU’s two-year absence doesn’t surpass Texas’ four-year absence or Oklahoma’s five-year absence.
When such droughts reach a handful of seasons or longer, a hugely successful coach can find himself taking a break from bowl preparations to explain why his resignation is best for the university and the program he has taken to the mountaintop, as Brown recently did.
Such are the expectations of the blue bloods that have won BCS titles. Only 10 schools can make that claim, and that number won’t grow in this 16th and final season of the BCS because Auburn and Florida State have already won titles.
“I’m part of building that expectation, so I embrace it,” Stoops said. “It’s part of what we do. I think it is a dynamic the longer you’ve been somewhere. For a lot of different reasons, that’s why a lot of coaches jump around.
“But in the end, I’ve been fortunate. No one has greater expectations for this program than what we expect of ourselves, so the outside pressures don’t really matter a whole lot.”
Stoops has been fortunate to work for the same university president (David Boren) and athletic director (Joe Castiglione) during his tenure.
He is 1-3 in BCS title games and is the only coach to have participated in a BCS title game and each of the BCS bowls. A victory against Alabama would give him the BCS equivalent of a grand slam — wins in the Sugar, Orange, Rose and Fiesta bowls — in addition to the BCS title after the 2000 season.
Nonetheless, some critics are starting to see Stoops in the way many Texas fans have seen Brown in recent seasons. That is, as someone who took over an elite program that had fallen on hard times, then returned it to glory, but couldn’t stay on top — the very top — with sufficient, albeit unrealistic, consistency.
Brown’s expected departure led to speculation that Saban might take on the Longhorns rebuilding process just as he had done with the Crimson Tide and LSU before that. Though Brown appears to be leaving Texas in better shape than Saban found LSU or Alabama and Stoops found the Sooners, Saban re-upped with the Tide before Brown officially resigned.
Saban, 62, reiterated that he plans to make Alabama the final stop in his coaching career.
Like Stoops, he created the monster of expectations that is his constant companion.
Theoretically, at least, elite programs have twice as good an opportunity to mollify the masses beginning next year. The new NCAA playoff will provide four teams an opportunity to compete for the championship instead of the current two.
So the Nos. 3 and 4 teams will at least be in the national semifinals, instead of a non-championship version of the Sugar, Fiesta, Orange or Rose bowls.
Perhaps that will afford programs such as Alabama and Oklahoma, and coaches such as Saban and Stoops, a little more slack.
But they probably shouldn’t count on it.
“I don’t know if the playoffs change anything,” Stoops said. “In the end, we’re expected to be there all the time.”